Monday, March 30, 2015

Alright, hold tight, I'm a highway star (Deep Purple)

A recent story about Finland did the rounds at school. Seems they've boldly done away with subjects! Yahoo! This is something I thought may have eventuated in NZ when we moved to standards based assessment with NCEA. But, no.

I thought about Finland and NZ's NCEA when I read a recent post on mind/shift. It was written by Thom Markham. During his post he asked this great question:
Are we making 21st century competencies the centerpiece of instruction? 

The inquiry method places 21st century competencies bang in the middle. As Mr Markham says:
Inquiry isn’t designed to teach information; it’s designed to set up the conditions under which students become more skillful. That’s why it’s inherently student-centered. Successful inquiry requires skillful competencies, which are a deep amalgam of habits, personality, and an experiential knowledge base.  
The NZ curriculum set out a number of skillful competencies, five in fact:
that suit perfectly the inquiry method.

To me this equals Synchronicity Part... um, I forget what number we're up to, but it must be a lot!

Suddenly subjects DON'T matter. Skillful competencies do.

Your witness...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Revelation reveals the truth (Bob Marley)

This one will sound like a no brainer but, what the hell... it turns out that building a culture of collaboration, respect, and trust is key to a successful blended learning/ student driven inquiry classroom. 

I'm finding after a term of a blended learning classroom that the key word in there (apart from 'culture') is TRUST

I operate on a high trust model in my classroom. Until a student abuses that trust - I will go the extra mile for them.

Now, clearly: computers (BYOD), Schoology and blended learning methods have the power to transform the classroom but it won't do much without the right culture of trust. In fact, it is the change in culture that will make the difference.
I saw the following acronym recently on the Mind/Shift web page: each letter stands for an important part of the blended learning classroom culture.
T = trust

R = respect

I = independence
C = collaboration
K = kindness

I'm not a huge fan of acronyms (hahahahaha he said through gritted teeth) but I liked this one because IT BEGAN with trust.

Trust in this case means the students trust each other to help in the learning process and I trust the students. The boundaries need to be established early. The key to building trust is to actually trust the students. If they let me down - well that's a learning moment for both of us! 

All this means putting students in situations requiring them to think for themselves. They may stumble and have difficulties, but the key is to support them in their efforts while letting them solve the problem themselves. This builds trust in themselves, in the class as a whole, and between me and the students.

Sounds simple right? Well that's actually is!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Many miles away something crawls to the surface of a dark Scottish lake (Police)

These two vids are in synchronicity. 

One outlines what students expect. 

I have long been an advocate for student voice (my current students KNOW what they like and what they want and they are NOT shy about telling me).

It's about giving the students control of their own learning.

The other one - how we'll do it and not only that -how we'll use an inquiry method to do it!

It's about giving the students control of their own learning.

Awesome dude!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We live in a wheel where everyone steals but when we rise it's like strawberry fields (Bush)

I read this from the Mind/Shift (How we will learn) blog, punched the air and uttered a triumphant 'YES'!!  
Are we empowering ourselves as teachers? In this day and age, change is peer-driven and crowd-sourced. Teachers need to see themselves as the leaders of change, not the tools of Superintendents or Departments of Education. This requires disruption on two levels. Conversations among teachers must range far beyond ordering new textbooks, deciding on a curriculum, or reviewing the tardy policy. Traditional structures, such as department meetings and grade-level teams, encourage this limited agenda. Professional Learning Networks offer a great structure, but must be energized by conversations oriented toward a meta-cognitive view of the organization rather than rearranging deck chairs. And, to make the collaboration deep and meaningful, the conversation must become more personal. Every teacher should be willing to share hopes and fears, examine biases, and reveal attitudes. This is the kind of ‘open space’ that develops the necessary momentum for shifting systems by linking people emotionally to a common mission.
Wow. This is bang on and I love it.

Disruption on two levels - ditch the hard focus on the mundane and traditional structures; shift to core business discussions. 

At the moment, for us, that is how to better use Schoology, BYOD, SAMR, to explore inquiry methods for the students. 

It also means continue our vertical push away from grade level teams.

Yeah baby! Awesome potential for great change (and change that is great)!!

The whole article can be found here:

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I don't want to come back down from this cloud (Bush)

As you read in my previous post: I'm convinced that a peculiar hybrid of UDL/inquiry/ blended/ personalised learning is right for senior English classes right now! My next few posts will be using that premise as a basis. Hang in there - it might get bumpy!
  • I'm always interested in what people think makes 'a good teacher'. This may appear to be a detour from that first sentence but bear with me.
  • Recently I came across some University of Birmingham research that set out to specifically explore the most important character strengths, or virtues, needed for good teaching, and what character strengths, or virtues, were held by today’s teachers.
  • It would be good to compare the findings with the views of New Zealand teachers. I suspect there would be a high correlation.
  • Anyway, let's cut to the chase! What did they find out?
  • There was widespread agreement on the personal qualities that are needed to be a good teacher.
  • The six most important character strengths for good teachers were:
  1. Fairness (78% of teachers )
  2. Creativity (68%)
  3. A love of learning (61%)
  4. Humour (53%)
  5. Perseverance (45%)
  6. Leadership (40%)

  • Sidebar #1: However, in describing their own character strengths they reported kindness (49%) and honesty (50%) in place of leadership and perseverance in those top six.
Sidebar #2: 37% of experienced teachers claimed that they do not feel that they have sufficient time to do their job to a standard they believe is right.

So what's this got to do with my UDL/ inquiry/ blended/ personalised learning hybrid?

In a word - compatability!

Think back twenty, ten, or even five years - would that list be different? I think so. Then, the teacher was the knowledge holder so students wanted  teachers to teach to the exam, have good subject knowledge, and ensure students understood things before advancing (yes this is stuff from an actual list from 20 years ago).

Check that Birmingham list again. That's right! It's different.  If good teaching now involves those things, and I believe it does, then it's imperative we embrace systems that are more compatible to those good teacher attributes and allow students to work to their individual strengths in their own time.  

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Try to see it once my way - everything zen (Bush)

Inquiry learning is on my mind lately. Mainly because I've adopted it as an educational philosophy that is right for now.

So it will be my focus for the next few posts. 

First - a refresher. 

Inquiry learning is not new, but it has come back into fashion because of a new emphasis on the power of students’ innate curiosity to drive learning. 

Inquiry-based learning asks students to discover knowledge on their own with guidance from me

Rather than receiving information up front through the teacher, students are choosing what standards they will work on, researching what they need, thinking about what they'll do, asking their own follow-ups and getting help from me along the way.

It can be messy. It can be frustrating (shouldn't I be doing what I used to do - teach them content?). It can be stressful for the student (just teach me the content).

So why do I love it so much? Easy - it gets rid of those industrial model classrooms (please - desks in rows? 60 minute periods? Let go of your control and move away from the dark side).

It's a high trust model and it puts the burden of responsibility for completing tasks and meeting deadlines on the shoulders of students

I've seen the future of teaching when that happens and it can be joyous!  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Well, I woke up this mornin', didn't know right from wrong (Muddy Waters)

The Meeting-a-thon continues unabated at school. 

They are a necessary evil.

It's not just Woodford House either - it's epidemic proportions in education. When I was a Deputy Principal (and then Principal) I seemed to spend most of my time in meetings. It was a bit of a shock - I didn't realise that was what I'd signed up for. Pastoral meetings, Middle Management Meetings, strategic Senior Leadership meetings, department meetings, parent meetings, student at risk was endless.

Now that I have more classes to teach I have less meetings but they still happen with alarming regularity.

So, bottom line - they can't be avoided. 

Here then is a good list of five things that meetings should be addressing. I whittled down to this core list from a list of 15 things that was on Dan Rockwell's blog. Less is more Dan!:

  • What does winning look like this week/month?
  • How will we know we are winning?
  • What kept us from achieving greater success last week/month? 
  • What new thing(s) will we try this week/month? (Organizations that      don’t try new things, die!) 
  • What dangers wait around the corner? How can we prepare today?

  • I like this list because it acknowledges big picture, rather than making widgets. It starts with the here and now, looks back a bit with a clear focus, and then thinks about the future.

    It's pretty much the same template we used when I was a DP at Cambridge High School and that I instigated in strategic Senior Leadership Team meetings as a Principal. Same idea - slightly different language.

    If you're going to have a meeting - than please - make it a focused one.

    Monday, March 2, 2015

    Time isn't holding us, time isn't after us - same as it ever was.. (Talking Heads)

    Where are we and how did we get here?

    Those are two pretty cool questions.

    They came to mind when I was asked to do a presentation to the staff on the state of mentoring at the school.

    So I came up with a PowerPoint for my allocated time of about 10 mins. Coincidentally, that's about my own attention span for this kind of thing.

    It's always sorta fun to do this kind of existential stock take from time to time.  

    Where are we?
    How did we get here?

    Where are we going? Was the next bit and so I tried to do all three things in my allotted ten minutes. 

    I wanted to make it fun too. Not being entertained during a Monday afternoon staff meeting is not an option as far as I'm concerned. Too much earnest gives me a headache.

    As a concept, Monday after school staff meetings can be brutal!

    Why do we do it? That's just another question btw.

    Actually...why do we have an afternoon meeting straight after school, at the start of a week? Is there any one out there who thinks that's a really cool idea? That's the best time?

    We're spost to be creative people, right? Why can't we programme it into a school day? A couple of my schools did that (Friday morning was popular) and did away with Monday after school. 

    Hmmm - I'll leave you pondering that for a bit.

    After the meeting I needed to come home and blast some music and so I did and here it is - an A M A Z I N G version of Little Wing by John's second son. 

    Enjoy this - it's special!!